The Dixon Gallery and Gardens will open a national tour of paintings about the role of water in America on January 21, 2007. “Waterscapes” might best describe the 50 paintings in the exhibition, RIVERS, SEA AND SHORE: Reflections on Water, which are traveling under the auspices of the Trust for Museum Exhibitions in Washington, D.C.
It has been said that America – a continent between two oceans – has had a love affair with the sea since its earliest beginnings. This exhibition clearly shows the changing emphasis of this love affair as the represented artists explore more than a century of American life on the water, a history reflected in ships and boats, seascapes and river scenes, as well as images of life along the shore. It also offers rare examples of water scenes west of the Appalachians.
The exhibition begins chronologically with the earliest form of American maritime painting – ship portraits – as represented by John S. Blunt’s 1828 homage to the U.S.S. Constitution. It concludes with paintings of depression-era industrial waterfronts (as in Reginald Marsh’s cathedral-like Lift Bridge, Jersey Marshes) and an update of the ancient genre of naval warfare art (Anton O. Fisher’s World War II Convoy).
Within this continuum, the exhibition explores the post Civil War era, when ships became more a part of the artist’s story than the whole story itself. As steamboats came to dominate water transportation, we see a steamboat making a night landing on the Mississippi, by Charles M. McIlhenny, from an era best described by Mark Twain. In other romantic 19th century art, we see the challenges for realistic painters in depicting the power and motion of waves, as in William Trost Richards’ Reflection in the Surf (c. 1895).
Large group of works in the exhibition focuses on the stunning paintings that came out of the artist colonies established on the Northeast Coast once Impressionism crossed the Atlantic in the early 20th century. Many notable artists working near Old Lyme, Connecticut, are represented, including Robert Vonnoh, Guy Wiggins and Gregory Smith. Other New England artists painted seaside towns long associated with whaling or commerce, reflecting nostalgia for a pre-industrial time. As Impressionism spread the idea that art should show the common man’s lifestyle, people were increasingly depicted enjoying the beach, such as in paintings by Edmund Graecen and E. Percy Moran; engaging in sport, suggested in Frank Benson’s Afternoon Ducks; and yacht racing (Summer Seas by Anton O. Fischer).
By the 1930s, artistic subjects began to turn to industrialization. Concerns about joblessness created greater interest in industry as depicted in Fayerweather Babcock’s Industrial Waterfront – Great Lakes, and in transportation, such as iron ships (Anton O. Fisher), bridges (Reginald Marsh), and even trains (Preston Dickinson’s Locomotive).
Collected over 40 years by Arthur J. Phelan of Chevy Chase, Maryland, these paintings express his own passion for paintings about water that can be traced to summers spent in Connecticut where he raced sailboats and watched large commercial sailing ships pass through Long Island Sound.
Following its preview at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens, where it will be on view from January 21 through April 8, 2007, the exhibition will travel to the R.W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, Louisiana (August 14 – October 28, 2007) and to the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin (November 17, 2007 – January 20, 2008).
The Trust for Museum Exhibitions is a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit service organization committed to providing the finest in exhibition and technical support to museums and cultural centers throughout the United States and abroad. For more information, please visit the Trust’s website at http://www.tme.org.
This exhibition is generously sponsored by Jane Maury Lovitt in memory of Lloyd B. Lovitt, Jr. and The Dixon Life Member Society.